Saturday, August 25, 2007

ABC 20:20 John Stossel on charitable giving and volunteerism

Last night, Friday Aug. 24, John Stossel (and Gena Binkley) hosted an ABC 20/20 show “Cheap in America” about giving and volunteerism. (“Cheap? Or Charitable?” The US is, relatively speaking, 20th in foreign aid as a government, but privately some Americans are much more generous. The poor and the wealthy may be more generous than the middle class, but Americans are very generous through their own organizations, especially churches.

Stossel pointed out that private charities sometimes do a much better job with public spaces than government. Stossel himself heads a foundation to beautify Central Park in New York City, which has become quite a showplace in the past ten years, compared to how it was in the 70s. The effectiveness of private giving instead of government has long been noted by libertarians. Here is the link.

Stossel also presented “rich kids” like Fabian Basabe, who live the good life, but many of them discover the value for work for its own sake, of work as self-expression or a mission. Blogs, after all, take work.

His report ventured into volunteer labor. One charity that helps men with drug rehabilitation employs them cleaning sidewalks in New York City, and they do the jobs with gusto, in blue uniforms. Remember “The Street News”?

He also talked about volunteer labor. There was a study that showed enormous medical and psychological benefits from volunteering. There are questions, however. Many salaried jobs and careers demand so much unpaid overtime that there is no time for volunteering. Today, there are increasing demands to work with kids as mentors and tutors. For older gay men, this presents a problem, as society, after Stonewall, quasi-forced us into urban exile for a few decades. Now many people (because of stereotypes and old prejudices -- many of them consequences of religion or of unequal treatment by government laws) don’t want us around kids, but say they desperately need (our) help educating and tutoring their kids. And I (in this day of Internet openness) for one am unwilling to work or volunteer where I think 40% or so of parents don’t want me around.

Stossel presented some teens working on home construction (it wasn't Habitat for Humanity but another charity), saying that "volunteer" work helped their academic concentration and grades despite the time it takes. He also said that "volunteering" was a misnomer here, because the particular school system (I think it was in Maryland) required community service as a prerequisite to graduation. This fits in to the "everyone serves" and mandatory national service debate (I think Stossel, a centrist libertarian, would oppose the "mandatory").

And volunteerism needs to be thought through. People have gone down to New Orleans to help rebuild homes and (especially if under 18) found themselves not allowed in the homes by health regulations because of mold.

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